I'm Going to Disney World and Taking the Bus
Hines Ward came out of Georgia having played RB, QB and WR as a third-round pick to the Steelers. However, Pittsburgh went with WR in the first round the next two years, leaving 1999 first round pick to comment about how he and 2000 first round pick Plaxico Burress were going to be a remarkable pair for years to come.
However, Ward wasn’t about to simply give up his chance because of what round he went in. His hard work and effort made it impossible for him to be taken out of the lineup and he quickly began re-writing the Steelers record book. Ward would have led the NFL in receptions in 2002 save for Marvin Harrison’s ridiculous 2002 record shattering season. When Ben Roethlisberger arrived on the scene, Ward’s statistics suffered a set back as the team focused on winning through running the ball 60 percent of the time, and he took over more of the leadership role.
In a game vs. Dallas, Roethlisberger became overwhelmed in the huddle and Ward took command and called the plays. He signed a contract prior to his breakout 2001 season, his production far outweighed his contract value, but he never became a distraction. After failing to win two AFC Championship Games, he did not quit nor did he tell teammates the team would never win. From 2005-10 (445 receptions, 5647 yards, 42 TDs,) the Steelers would reach the Super Bowl three times, winning twice including the signature moment of his career as he hauled in the game clinching TD pass en route to winning Super Bowl MVP Honors.
But perhaps the most enduring images of his career were his constant smile—no matter what. Ward would take a hit and give one just the same. Labeled by some as a dirty player—the irony is that if Ward took the hits that he gave it would have just been part of the game, but because he didn’t just block by getting in the way, but instead he looked to punish his opponent.
On a game the Ravens put a bounty out on Ward and a rookie Mendenhall (because Mendenhall had rookie enthusiasm about his first start)—Ray Lewis broke the shoulder of Mendenhall and no one said a thing. Ward knocked out Ed Reed straight up and he was called dirty. The reality is Ward played the game with an old style football toughness that has never been seen before by a WR and will never be seen from since. But most of all, no matter what, he gave it his all, sacrificed for the better of the team, mentored his younger teammates and focused on winning—that will be Ward’s legacy.